JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser's four quick thoughts on 2018 Jaguars free agency in the wake of seven unrestricted free agents signing with the team on Thursday morning…
1.This isn't 2017 – and it wasn't supposed to be.The first thought in the wake of Thursday morning's free-agent frenzy is that this day had a different feel from 2017 Free Agency Day – and that that was OK. The Jaguars last March signed two of the league's top unrestricted free agents – defensive end Calais Campbell and cornerback A.J. Bouye – along with starting strong safety Barry Church. The hope then was those players would be the added punch to transform a good defense into one of the league's best. That hope was met to a degree few could have expected. The 2018 signing class isn't meant to be on the same scale as last year's. The makeup this year is more about one premier player – guard Andrew Norwell – and three contributors/starters (wide receivers Marqise Lee and Donte Moncrief and nickel corner D.J. Hayden) along with special teams players such as Niles Paul, Don Carey and Cody Davis. The impact won't be as high-profile and the Jaguars in the coming days may not be judged to have "won" free agency. Still, if Norwell is as good as advertised and the rest of the players fill the roles as hoped, Thursday will be remembered as an important day.
Welcome free agent LG Andrew Norwell to Jacksonville.
2.The Jaguars' direction is set. Really set.It's not as if we didn't know the Jaguars' direction already; it was clear throughout the 2017 season that this is a running team. But the decision to sign Norwell to a core-player contract and allow wide receiver Allen Robinson to leave clearly shows the Jaguars are even more committed to the run than last season when they led the NFL in the category. The Jaguars could have re-signed Robinson for franchise-level money, but concerns over the torn anterior cruciate ligament he sustained in the 2017 regular-season opener and concerns over his ability to be a true No. 1 receiver prompted them to allow him to negotiate with other teams. The price quickly became more than the Jaguars wanted to pay and Robinson signed with Chicago. The Jaguars set no such limit on Norwell, offering the Carolina Panthers All-Pro a deal that lured him from the New York Giants. Norwell's reported contract of five years for $66.5 million with $30 million guaranteed is mammoth for an interior lineman – and an inarguable sign of the franchise's philosophy.
Welcome free agent WR Donte Moncrief.
3.Special teams mattered.Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone since taking the position has talked often about the importance of special teams; the Jaguars have backed up that talk during free agency. The Jaguars last offseason signed linebacker Lerentee McCray primarily for special teams. He made the roster last season while two other special teams-oriented '17 free agents – linebacker Audie Cole and Josh McNary – did not. The Jaguars made a stronger push for special teams in free agency this week; Carey, Paul and Davis are all veterans who have emphasized the areas throughout their careers. Paul was the Washington Redskins' special teams captain each of the past two seasons.
Welcome free agent tight end Niles Paul to Jacksonville.
4.Wide receiver wasn't ignored …The Jaguars didn't want to lose Robinson, but losing him didn't mean they neglected receiver this week. They signed re-signed Lee – the team's leader in receptions last season – and former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Donte Moncrief to contracts that guaranteed less money with a shorter commitment than Robinson's deal. Moncrief's deal was a one-year "prove-it" contract for a player who has been hampered by injuries more than ability. While Lee had some critical drops last season, he had more big moments than bad – and the team loves his toughness and run-blocking ability.